On July 30, 2018, Zimbabwe will conduct its sixth presidential and ninth parliamentary election since Independence in 1980. With the exception of the legislative race in 2008, the winning party in every contest has been Zanu PF led by former President Robert Mugabe.
BY ELDRED MASUNUNGURE
The novel elections will not only be former president Robert Mugabe-free; they will also be the first in two decades without Morgan Tsvangirai, the late founder of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and a perennial thorn in Zanu PFs fresh. Instead, two political gladiators face each other: 75-year-old incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa and his challenger, MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa, who turned 40 earlier this year.
Though the ballot paper for the presidential election is congested with an unprecedented 23 candidates, most Zimbabweans and observers converge on the fact that the contest is essentially a two-horse race. Further, recent public opinion surveys suggest that the high-stakes presidential election has tightened sharply and by July 30, the contest may too close to call. The surveys also betray the volatility and fluidity of the electorate and its choices.
This piece thus deliberately refrains from hazarding any predictions about this fluid and tumultuous electoral contest suffice it to say it will be a turnout election in which the victor will be determined largely by which party manages to more robustly mobilise its supporters to the polling booth. There is no point in having a sea of supporters, but only an island of voters. Notwithstanding this caution, the possibility is more real now than ever before that, for the first time in Zimbabwe’s 38 years of independence, there could be an alternation of power from one party to another, a novel thing in a country with an entrenched electoral authoritarianism.
This write-up examines what is likely to happen under a regime continuity scenario, that is, post-election Zimbabwe under Mnangagwa. Other possible scenarios will be examined elsewhere. I, however, aver that irrespective of who wins the upcoming elections, I foresee policy convergence — especially in the economic arena between Chamisa and the “new” Mnangagwa. The substance of their policies will differ in all unimportant respects, while differing visibly in policy style. Further, no one should delude himself or herself that the vicious cycle that has defined Zimbabwe since “Black Friday” on November 4, 1999, will quickly be broken and replaced by a virtuous cycle. Sober analysis suggests that it will take at least the next five years — a full presidential term — for the country to irreversibly turn the corner. Any other prognosis lies in the realm of wishful thinking. In short, beware of wild hopes regardless of who takes over. Reality cautions we temper our expectations.
It is common knowledge that Mnangagwa enjoyed inherited legitimacy when he took over from Mugabe in November 2017. This embarrassing fact is somewhat atoned by his having been nominated by his party to succeed Mugabe. Mnangagwa has also tried to compensate for his lack of elected legitimacy by generating performance legitimacy, but there were very few low-hanging fruits in the context of innumerable obstinate and intractable problems that undermined his presidency.
Top of this hierarchy of “wicked” problems is the unemployment crisis which some economists claim to be over 90%, attendant widespread chronic poverty — in both rural and urban areas where the phenomenon of employed poor is not entrenched, endemic and systemic corruption, the deepening cash crisis, and ever-escalating prices of basic commodities, all of which he has had difficulty in resolving. Hence the withering away of the popular and rather unreflective euphoria that greeted him at his assumption of power. So, what will Mnangagwa do when he has his own earned popular legitimacy? Will he continue with his old agenda as he articulated it over the last nine months? Many also wonder whether he will continue to be “as soft as wool” or will he relapse — as most Zimbabweans fear — into the old mode of a ruthless political operator who broods no dissent?
Since November 24, 2017, when he assumed the reins of power, Mnangagwa has systematically remodelled himself as a born-again political practitioner, different from both Mugabe as well as from his past self. Indeed, Mnangagwa has so far ushered in some reforms, mostly to remedy the immediate and medium-term consequences of the 20-year syndrome of crises that manifested themselves in various ways. The seminal reform was the practically complete dismantlement of his party’s flagship policy of indigenisation and economic empowerment which had succeed in empowering the elite rather than the masses. Farm invasions have also almost stopped country-wide and some white farmers rehabilitated with some compensation for farm improvements promised or paid while Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement-protected investments have been guaranteed of security. However, Mnangagwa has so far dismally failed to tackle and reign in the mother of all problems, pervasive grand petty corruption in high circles. Many other resilient problems remain untamed one of which is joblessness.
In recent (early July 2018) survey conducted by the Mass Public Opinion Institute (together with the Afrobarometer and Institute for Justice and Reconciliation), adult Zimbabweans felt, by 10-percentage points, that Chamisa (42%) would do a better job that Mnangagwa (32%). That probably accounts for the fact that Chamisa has slightly more trust (but statistically insignificant) than Mnangagwa (48%:47%). In short, Mnangagwa will need to re-double his efforts if he is to effectively deploy his earned popular legitimacy (should he win) to generate performance legitimacy. Political stability and credibility in a democratic polity require that the two forms of legitimacy go together.
The starting point in efforts to effectively address the multifaceted crisis will be abandonment of his predecessor’s irrational policy style. Under Mugabe, and with few exceptions that confirm the tendency, when political rationality clashed with economic rationality — as it often did — the former trumped the latter. This lay at the root of Zimbabwe’s governance crisis. If Zimbabwe is to recover in all its key dimensions, this governance style needs to be reoriented such that political rationality matches economic rationality. Under Mugabe, economics vibrated with the rhythm of politics; now politics and economics need to vibrate together. Thus, one of Mnangagwa’s overarching imperative is to detoxify the country’s politics simultaneously with the detoxification of its economy.
In terms of the overall governance model, the new Mnangagwa administration is most likely going to consolidate the Beijing Consensus or the Chinese Model that is already underway and whose best African case study is Rwanda. Mnangagwa has an undisguised admiration for both. A defining feature of this model is that it rests on two governance dimensions at the domestic level.
In its classic sense, the model entails liberal economic governance and illiberal political governance. In this model, it is the “economy first” and all other things — including democratic governance — will follow. And, and as long as the 2018 elections are relatively clean and credible and the economy is kept open, the West is likely to look the other side on issues of political governance. In short, post-election Zimbabwe is likely to see perestroika without glasnost.
Mnangagwa’s present overarching economic policy paradigm is: “Zimbabwe is open for business”. He has been arduous in marketing this mantra, especially in the international community where he expects to woo many thick-pocketed investors who have shunned the country and its economy in the last two decades but who appear to have been charmed by his new economic policy mantra. His economic and business policy thrusts are clearly set in the neo-liberal paradigm. These have been accompanied by the expanding political space in the last nine months.
However, the clear and vicious challenge for Mnangagwa will be maintaining a governance stance of both open business and open politics. This is often an incongruous marriage in emerging democracies. Rwanda has “solved” the “wicked” combination by having open economics, but closed politics.
The formula seems to be working in that country and Mnangagwa may find it too glittering to resist. International investors are unlikely to be deterred by this model, so are Western capitals, as long as the Prince refrains from egregious human rights abuses.
I speculate that Mnangagwa will go for liberal economic governance and a more restrictive liberal political governance which however can be hardened should he face an existential threat to his continued hold on power. I doubt though that there will be regression to the hard authoritarianism of his Machiavellian predecessor which was characterised by a dual closure: a closed economy and closed politics.
The reality, though, lies in the womb of the future.
Masunungure is a professor of political science at the University of Zimbabwe and director of Mass Public Opinion Institute (Mpoi).